This game started off just about as poorly as it could have for the Xavier Musketeers in terms of the gameplan already seeming to go south. Within two minutes Matt Stainbrook (10/2/0) had accrued two fouls and Coach Mack had received a technical. In the next two minutes Alabama had knocked in two three pointers and were well on their way to lifting 13 in the first half. Things could have been much rosier, especially with the scepter of California still hanging over the team, but the Musketeers fought back quickly.
Xavier went on a 14-2 run after the second of those three pointers rattled home. Remy Abell (12/4/5) hit a three and and found JP Macura (13/1/2) for a layup, and Jalen Reynolds (12/7/0) threw down two monster dunks and suddenly Xavier was on their way. Alabama pulled back within two before another 13-2 Xavier run, again sparked by Abell, pushed the lead in the first half to 11. Xavier led 41-30 at the half and looked good value for their lead. The Musketeers had gotten 20 points from the bench, held Alabama to 34.8% from the floor, and had a seven rebound margin over the Tide.
The second half started well, with Xavier inexorably drawing away until the lead was comfortably sitting around 15-18 points. The high water mark came with the Musketeers up by 21 with only six minutes to play. Thanks to a cameo by Tim Stainbrook, Xavier used 13 players in the second period, shot 69.6% from the floor, and got to the free throw line 29 times. With the exception of Stainbrook the Lesser and Brandon Randolph (0/4/2), every Musketeer that saw the floor in the second period scored. Xavier ended up with a 97-84 win over a power five conference team at home and a large step in the right direction after the annual Thanksgiving debacle. Why, then, are there still serious reasons for concern?
There may be reasons for concern, but the offense is not currently one of them. In this game Xavier had six players in double figures, assisted on 22 of 30 field goal makes, shot over 50% from the field and from behind the arc, and made 26 of 36 free throws. The team put up an offensive efficiency rating of 130.6 and an effective field goal percentage of 67%. In short, the offense could hardly have been any better against Alabama.
That's not just a one game thing either. Xavier is currently tenth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. Not since the 2008 team that advanced to the Elite Eight have the Musketeers had a squad that scored so effectively. The team is currently on pace to be the second best in offensive efficiency that Xavier has had since the statistic started being calculated. That's not the end of the impressive numbers either. Xavier has four players in the top 100 nationally in offensive rating, the personal version of offensive efficiency. Matt Stainbrook (16th), Trevon Bluiett (20th), Myles Davis (62nd), and Remy Abell (87th) form that quartet, with Jalen Reynolds (135th) not far behind. Not since the 2009 season (Derrick Brown) has Xavier had even one player in the top 100, and the Musketeers have never had four players ranked that highly.
The offense doesn't stop there, either. The team shoots 59% inside the arc (fifth in the nation), 38.9% from behind the arc, and 70.3% from the line. Only 27 teams in the nation turn the ball over less than the 16.2% of possessions Xavier does, the Musketeers grab 36.4% of their misses, and tally an assist on 62% of made buckets. It's simply hard to conceive of an offense being markedly better than the one that is running out there right now.
That brings us to the defense. Eight games into the season, this defense is the worst Xavier fans have suffered through since the 2005 Sean Miller led squad. That team had been devastated by the departure of Thad Matta and saw Churchill Odia play 18.5% of the available minutes. They in no way represent a gold standard for Musketeers teams, but the current iteration has nearly equaled them in defensive futility.
Against Alabama, Xavier saw an opponent get off over 20 three pointers for the fourth straight game. That number is significant because while defenses don't have a great deal of control over opponents three point percentage, they do have control over attempts. In essence, Xavier is currently completely unable to keep opponents from taking 36% of their shots from deep. Add in the marginal effect that teams do have on three point percentage and you get the impression that the 41% Xavier's opponents are knocking down from deep may not be completely correctable. Only 17 teams in the nation allow a larger portion of opponents points to come from deep. The common denominator in those teams is that they are all miserable (or Ohio St.).
The problems aren't just behind the arc either. Teams shoot 47.8% inside the arc against the Musketeers as well. While that is midpack for the 351 NCAA DI teams, it's nowhere near what a major conference team with tournament aspirations should be allowing. Xavier also only blocks 10% of opponents shots, and only gets steals on 9.8% of possessions. Again, those numbers aren't awful, but they aren't where Xavier should be. Add in the fact that teams are making it rain routinely and the lack of terminated possessions looms larger. The Musketeers do hold teams to 59.8% from the line, but I'm guessing that isn't something they can take much credit for.
So where do we stand? Xavier's offense is historically good for the program, and the defense is historically bad. There are reasons for some encouragement. Xavier dabbled with other defenses against Alabama and, while none were extremely effective, that showed a willingness to address the issue. There's also the fact that the Musketeers are working seven new players into a defensive rotation. That takes time to get correct and will come with some growing pains. Most importantly, Xavier is currently 6-2. IUPUI should represent a chance to fine tune things before testing if not incredibly difficult games at Missouri and Auburn. Things can be fixed well before this season is truly in danger.